Harold Wilson famously quipped that a week is long time in politics; in Britain at the moment, an hour can seem long enough. This week, Theresa May made an early entrance through the doors of Number 10 Downing Street (stepping over chief mouser, Larry the cat – one of the few residents of Downing Street to survive a ruthless reshuffle), and her blueprint for the country and its economy were laid bare.
The fact we have a new Prime Minister, ahead of schedule, is reason enough for housebuilders to feel on more solid ground. “Much of the economic turmoil – decreasing value of the pound, falling share prices, and intervention by the Bank of England – is all because of uncertainty,” said Simon Girling, National Chair of the National Federation of Builders. “The sooner we have some semblance of stability the better. That way we can get back to focusing on building the homes our country needs, developing home-grown talent, and doing this while securing the best value for taxpayers’ money.”
“Theresa May’s appointment as David Cameron’s replacement is great news for the UK,” agreed Ray Withers, CEO of Property Frontiers. “What the country needs right now is stability and the more certainty we can achieve, the better. Property markets are sensitive to uncertainty, so Theresa May now resident at Number 10 so quickly is definitely preferable to a long, drawn out leadership contest. The appointment is already having a positive impact on economic sentiment. Indeed, we’ve already seen the pound regain some of its strength against the dollar since the news of Ms May’s appointment.”
Theresa May wants to create a country that works for everyone, by giving people more opportunity; encouragingly, she has acknowledged the housebuilding industry’s role in making this a reality. The fact that everyone needs a roof over their head, and the only way to make this happen is to build more roofs, is a basic principle which seemed to evade many of her predecessors.
“It is also why housing matters so much, and why we need to do far more to get more houses built,” she said when launching her national campaign. “Because unless we deal with the housing deficit, we will see house prices keep on rising. Young people will find it even harder to afford their own home.
“The divide between those who inherit wealth and those who don’t will become more pronounced. And more and more of the country’s money will go into expensive housing instead of more productive investments that generate more economic growth.”
To have the significance of the housebuilding industry acknowledged is a serious boon to the sector. “Rarely has a Prime Minister put as much immediate emphasis on housebuilding as the incoming Theresa May,” said Andrew Eagles, Chief Executive Officer of the Brick Development Association (BDA). “It is hugely welcome to see the problems associated with the housing deficit being recognised and to see a commitment to addressing the shortfall coming from all sides of the political spectrum.”
However, May was scant on the details of how she might make this happen in the face of a talent shortage and clunky planning systems. Indeed, some of her early policies are already giving industry players cause for alarm. For example, her decision to scrap the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) sends a worrying signal that improving the energy efficiency of buildings has been pushed ever-further down the list of Government priorities.
Other moves, such as the appointment of Justine Greening as Secretary of State for Education with responsibility for skills and apprentices, which previously came under the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, have received a more enthusiastic welcome.
“We hope that she (Justine Greening) continues the good work of Nick Boles in improving the quality of apprenticeships, which will in turn help elevate their status so that they are recognised by society as of equal worth to university degrees,” said Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said. “Greening has a solid background in transport and treasury briefs which will no doubt help her understand the importance of having a properly skilled construction workforce. As we face the prospect of Brexit, combating the construction skills crisis has never been more important.”